Situational Awareness: Watching Others


Situational Awareness involves paying attention to what is happening around you.

What you do with that information is up to you and your perception of the associated real-time risks. Most often as a result (of your situational awareness) – no action on your part is required. Usually (for most of us) ‘life’ moves forward in our modern world without much of a worry of very bad things happening to us. The problem though is that we get caught up in our own normalcy bias, which sets us up for disaster.

Here’s something that you can do (a drill) to hone your situational awareness skills:

This drill will make you much more aware of the vulnerabilities that most people have while out in public, and how they become easy prey.


Take some time to specifically do the following…

Drive to a Walmart parking lot (or any busy parking lot like this). Park away from the front entrance so that you can observe people’s coming and goings.

Sit in your car and watch how unbelievably unobservant and ignorant (of their surroundings) that many people are as they exit their vehicle and make their way to the entrance — the same with those who are returning to their car.

How many of them walk down the center of the parking lot lanes?

How many of them walk mostly aimlessly as they veer this way and that way, or unpredictably lurch a different direction, or even stop short completely — while distracted?

How many are talking on their phones while their subconscious minds pull them toward the front entrance – without consciously thinking about where their feet are taking them and what’s happening around them?

Face down in their smart phones while texting and walking (not seeing beyond a few feet in front of them).

Completely blind to the fact that they’re holding up a line of cars behind them while they wander down the middle of the lane or park their shopping carriage blocking half the roadway.

How many of them will step off the front curb right into parking-lot traffic without looking or giving it a second thought?

Count the number of people who mostly look down while they’re walking – even if they’re not using a phone or anything – while apparently deep in blissful la-la land.

Watch those who are in groups as they talk together while walking, and see how they’re in their own little cocoon as they make their way to the front entrance or back to their car without really observing their surroundings.

Count how many ‘near misses’ happen as people back their cars out of their parking spaces without seeing some other wandering ‘idiot’ coming down the lane.

Observe how many people actually keep their head up and LOOK AROUND while they are walking (very few I’m sure).

Check how many of them actually turn their head and look back behind them.


Now do this…

Look around the parking lot at the cars, and see if there are any others who are just sitting in their vehicles. They could be simply waiting for their partner to return from the store. Or maybe not?

Watch others, and watch who they are watching.

By observing others, you will quickly identify those who are actually situationally aware, and you will also instinctively identify those who are ‘perhaps’ a risk. Trust what your gut tells you about a situation. People’s actions in a given environment will either seem to be ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’. Abnormal behavior may be due to something completely non-sinister, but you never know. This is when you need to get your guard up and minimize your exposure to the developing situation.


The exercise of watching others (in all situations) will reveal to you how inept that most people are with regards to their own situational awareness. It will be eye opening. It should inspire you to be more observant of your own situation and risk assessments while ‘out and about’.

While looking in your area, there will certainly be those who you’ll notice to have situational awareness. I’m curious though to know your estimation of percentages — What percentage of people out in public do you estimate to be mostly not aware of their surroundings versus those who appear to be mostly aware?


  1. I always scan vehicles/people within sight of my parking space to assess any potential threats. The majority of the time, the “threats” I’m assessing are of the “are they likely to break into my vehicle” types. If I am parking somewhere unfamiliar, especially in large metro areas, then that assessment is geared as much towards personal threats as they are towards property theft potentials. I have good reason to make such assessments, as I have had two vehicles broken into, one time cost me a few CD’s, and the other cost me a laptop.

    As for clueless people with zero situational awareness, I got stuck behind a slow moving family making their way thru a retail area this past weekend. Unfortunately, we were headed for the exact same destination, so I was stuck behind them a good while. I moved up very close behind them, intentionally intruding on their personal space, thinking this would get their attention, so they would reduce their spread so someone could get by. They never once noticed, and acted somewhat surprised when we finally reached an area where I could get by them…as tho they could not figure out where the hell I had came from, after having been right on their tails for so long. They had little kids in tow, and although the father was bringing up the rear, there were a couple times where one of their toddlers was practically walking with me instead of his parents. Unbelievable!

  2. When I first glanced at the post, I instantly thought about the last time I went to Wally World, and how many land walruses I saw waddling through the place in their house slippers, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were slowly committing suicide by way of high fructose corn syrup and that 18 pack of Busch beer in their wagon[s]. After that little chuckle, I read the post.

    When I’m in a large public place with lots of foot traffic, I play a game with Little Ancona called “Who is carrying a weapon, and do you think they have a CC permit”? Often, it’s as many as 3 out of ten that we believe to be armed with a handgun, and as many as 5 out of 10 that we believe to be carrying some sort of weapon, be it a handgun, mace, knife or some sort of taser. There is a distinct pattern depending upon where we are and how many folks are armed as well. We found that places like Wal-Mart, Target and K-mart type stores had a far higher prevalence of armed people that we found at Macy’s, Brooks Brothers and the better restaurants in our area. While affluence may indeed be part of the equation, I believe it is more about the demographic that may be encountered rather than simply what items in these locations cost. In other words, Folks feel a hell of a lot safer going to Macy’s than they do Wal-Mart.

  3. I love to people watch in areas where there is a high percentage of foot traffic. You are right Ken, I estimate that about 85% of the people I see are totally oblivious to their surroundings. Then roughly about 7-8% that have some awareness of where they are going and watching their forward march but still oblivious to what goes on behind them or to either side like a horse with blinders. Then roughly 2% that look at everything and are very aware. They notice me as I am watching them and surprisingly I have received a slight smile and a knowing nod as they recognize another kindred spirit. Then there is another very small percentage that I just can’t read. Either they are totally in their own world or they are very good at pretending to be oblivious. Seemingly able to pick up on the smallest oddity in their environment yet at the same time not seeing a possible real threat right in front of them. You can learn allot just watching people.

  4. Situational awareness.

    What could go wrong here, and what would I do if it did? Always thinking: “What is my Plan B? C?”

    Like our Preps – most of us are probably prepping for a few different scenarios and subsets of those. “Preps” are not just something I squirrel away somewhere, but a mind-set. A way of thinking. What if….?

  5. I watched a movie last night–Kevin Bacon lost his son due to stopping at a gang-infested neighborhood to get gas.
    The first thing I yelled was “”NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT A HALF TANK OF GAS”” always.
    My tanks on my vehicles stay 3/4 all the time. NEVER get below half full–ever.
    Inconvenient??? Well, so is watching your daughter get raped, or son’s neck sliced with a machete!!!
    IF you have car trouble–call 911 for a cop and sit tight with locked doors.
    This ain’t the 70s folks.
    I am 63 and don’t think about going out after dark…ever!!

    1. In South Africa, it’s sometimes even dangerous going out in broad daylight.

  6. Ladies–can’t find your car?? Use the panic button on the remote–embarrassing??
    So is getting knifed, robbed, raped..get it??

  7. There are times when I emulate Jason Bourne just for fun. When I walk into a dinner I’ll scan the place looking for exits, measuring up people, identifying the best seating position to monitor the place. One of my favorite conversations is from the Bourne movie where he’s describing all of the things he does to enhance his situational awareness.

  8. Due to world events I am paying attention to license plates. If a car is in my area I record the license plate and can determine which ones are regulars, visitors or out of place. Decades ago one of our neighbors who was a police officer went door to door asking if the car with the ny license plates belonged to any visitors of people on the street. Nobody knew why the car was there and he determined that it was indeed stolen from more than 400 miles away. I am concerned about crime so I would make note and report anything out of the ordinary and suspicious.

    1. Lady jane

      sounds like a good idea…

      maybe also take note, if the license plate is always on the same vehicle. Yrs back, it used to be common to move a license plate fr vehicle to vehicle. Sometimes jst an attempt to save on purchase of plate, sometime more nefarious.

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